OAKS (QUERCUS SPP.) ARE OFTEN OVERLOOKED when it comes to fall foliage, but now is the time they shine. After the early fall dazzlers like maple and ash have lost their leaves it’s the deciduous oaks that come through to light up the sky in yellow and orange until winter arrives. Texas red oak (Q. texana) and Shumard red oak (Q. shumardii) are among the showiest of oaks you should keep on your radar this month.
Oaks are on our minds at the Wildflower Center year-round. The opening of the Texas Arboretum in 2012 was a game changer here – the 16-acre arboretum has helped us welcome more and more visitors every year since. Those who visit can explore the arboretum’s 1.5-mile trail or swing under the live oaks in the “Cathedral.”
Seventy-three percent of all oak species in the U.S. are native to Texas. Arborist Andrew McNeil-Marshall is working hard to see that all of them are represented in the Texas Arboretum. He and other Wildflower Center staff search Texas for acorns to germinate and then plant in the arboretum. In September, McNeil-Marshall and nursery manager Sean Watson collected acorns from West Texas in the Davis Mountains, Quitman Mountains and Franklin Mountains in El Paso. A typical collection day saw the duo driving from basecamp in Alpine to locations up to three hours away with several stops along the roadside to make collections.
“It’s kind of an adventure; it’s kind of a puzzle. You have to find where these trees occur and get permits to enter the property and collect acorns,” McNeil-Marshall explains.
Collections help build the Texas Arboretum Oak Collection – a long-term effort to grow and display the many and varied oaks of Texas.
During this last trip, McNeil-Marshall and Watson collected 11 different species of oaks, including the large white oak (Q. arizonica), the highly adaptable silver leaf oak (Q. hypoleucoides) and the rare slender oak (Q. graciliformis).
McNeil-Marshall can’t wait for these oaks to grow up in the Arboretum. “I love the idea of coming out here when I’m 100 and sitting under the trees I planted.”